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How Expectations Take Us Away from Ourselves After Birth

Our introduction to guilt and shame typically begins as soon as we’re born. When parents have children it feels as though there is a universal belief that children are supposed to meet the needs of their parents. For a baby’s only seen the light of day for the first time, that’s already immense pressure. As we talked about earlier, a household can embody all three cultures. As a source for survival, parents are seen as authority figures who they are dependent on to live. This will always be the case regardless of how the child is treated.

Pressure at Home

There are two things already working against the child; the child’s dependents on parents and the child’s lack of experience in the world. With these as disadvantages, the child is forced to comply with the standards and desires of the parent. Without a point of reference, a toxic household could seem normal for a child. A toxic house is highlighted by the parent’s reluctance to allow the child to show their authentic emotions. 

I particularly think about boys in this predicament. Not to say my household was toxic, but as a boy, I wasn’t allowed to cry. “Boys don’t cry” was the statement of the era. It still is today. Boys grow up to be men, devoid of emotions because emotions inconvenience the parent. Then we wonder why men aren’t able to show emotion. A good amount of adult trauma comes from the guilt that comes with living up to what our parents want for us.

I’m sure you can pick out the most common expectations, but I’ll list a few more to see if it relates to you. There’s the expectation that the parent wants the child to be just like their parent. Even worse, the parent wants the children to live up to the dream that the parent wasn’t able to accomplish.

A good example that comes to mind is the Ball brothers, Lamelo, LiAngelo, and Lonzo. The father of the brothers, Lavar Ball, never had an NBA career although he played basketball in high school. I’m not going to comment on his intent, but from the outside looking in it very much looked like he was intent on making sure all his sons had the NBA dream he never had. With a reality show, a Big Baller Brand clothing line, and an amateur basketball league all using his children to promote, it’s hard to see his motives as pure.

There are pressures from parents to be something. You might hear how parents want their child to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. When it comes to a profession, the parents may expose their child to the one profession as if it’s their only option in life. The child then goes through each stage in life not knowing the other options they have to better align with who they are. I have a friend that said that she wanted to be a doctor at a very young age. She’s now a resident and dislikes the experience. The sad part about it is that she doesn’t have much experience doing anything else to pivot. Mothers might pressure their daughters to get married if they are reaching an age at which the mom perceives is too old to not be married.

What can these children do? They need their parents to survive. Any act of resisting these expectations would be seen as disobedience. Any act of disobedience deserves punishment. Whether the child lives up to the expectations of the parent, doesn’t matter. Those who live up to their parents’ expectations do so in obligation, forsaking their true selves. Those who don’t live with the shame and guilt of not being good enough. Later in life, we find ourselves in therapy because of it.

Pressure at School

Some parents expect perfection, especially when it comes to their schoolwork. If there’s an A- on the report card, there’s going to be a problem. Most parents care more about the arbitrary letter grade than the mental capacity when it comes to learning. It also becomes hard for the student when they have placed in a one-size fits all classroom in which they are expected to learn like everyone else. The teacher is never going too fast, it’s always the student who has a tough time learning. Why? Because Billy is passing with flying colors. If Billy can pass, why can’t you? The constant comparison makes struggling students believe they are struggling because they are stupid, not because they need a unique perspective on the subject. I won’t go too deep into school as we already talked a bit about it earlier.

A sense of belonging is important to a child as they take steps outside of the home. It’s good to have a home base of love that involves siblings, but they are supposed to love you, right? It’s quite different when you receive love from strangers that grow together with you. Nothing is wrong with this, but children could do unhealthy things if they fear being left out. When we are left out, we are shamed for not having friends. Something must be wrong with us.

Kids learn about hierarchy pretty quickly. When it comes to groups of friends at school, there are cliques. At the lowest part of the pyramid, you can find nerds and bullies. These groups have to stick to each other because not too many people above them want to associate with them. At the top, you have the popular kids, jocks, and cheerleaders. They have their group and wouldn’t dare socialize with anyone beneath them. The goal of school is to get into higher forms of friendships, but that may also mean compromising who you are to sit with the cool kids. These friendships can be built on superficial characteristics like looks and skill in a popular sport.

Peer Pressure

Friends during our school years might be the most influential group of people we come across. We feel like we have to like the same things and do the same thing. If one of my friends wants to get into hijinks, I guess we’re all doing it. I don’t want to be clowned by the crew. In this way, parents also try to dictate who you become friends with. They don’t want you to fall into the wrong crowd. Our parents know that during childhood and unconsciously as adults, we become the people we surround ourselves with.  That happens to be one of the most common pieces of advice in our world. If you want to be successful, be around the people you want to be. No one has ever said to spend the time to discover who you are.

Workplace Pressure

Expectations don’t go away once kids grow up. The workplace is full of expectations. Not only are there expectations, but expectations are set high. The expectations are largely unattainable in some cases. If there aren’t high expectations then there isn’t any cause for high achievement. Corporations want their workers to strive for higher goals and the only way to do that is to keep moving the goalpost. There’s not much you can do as a worker. It’s very easy to confuse high goals with unrealistic expectations. I feel like it’s the same situation with parents when you have a job you don’t like. What are you going to do, quit? Don’t you need a job to survive?

There are so many consequences to the expectations that are put on employees. For me, it was a loss of confidence. Imagine getting an unattainable goal and missing it every time. A person who finds value in their work would be so discouraged. It’s an issue with them and they need to work harder when in reality, the goal was arbitrary, to begin with. Any negative feedback, as a result, can make the worker feel inferior.

The other expectation that I’ve had a hard time with is caring about what the company does. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that employees are supposed to be fanboys for the company. They are expected to be the evangelists of the organization, even if they are just there to survive. Some people just want to work and go home to their families. Yet, if they don’t show up to the company event they are somehow not seen as a team player. I think it’s good to show some interest in a company, especially if you are going to spend most of your time there. At the same time, we should never feel guilt or shame when we choose something over work. I’ll see y’all tomorrow.